CLEMSON - K.J. McDaniels was the best player on the court. Again. But he played for the second-best team, again.
Three nights this week, both near and far, Clemson's lack of scoring depth was exposed, this time in a 63-58 home defeat against No. 17 Virginia Saturday afternoon at Littlejohn Coliseum, dropping the Tigers to their first three-game losing streak of the year.
"It's tough. But we just have to learn," McDaniels said, fairly even-keeled during postgame interviews. "We just need to find a way to win."
McDaniels led all players in scoring Sunday at Syracuse (19 points), Tuesday at Notre Dame (career-high 30) and Saturday against the Cavaliers (24 points, 6-for-13.) All three times, the potential all-ACC pick's efforts were for naught, and he was hardly to blame.
McDaniels averaged 24.3 points this week, going 25-for-50 from the floor. The rest of the Tigers, combined, averaged 31.0 points on 30 percent shooting, and Rod Hall's 12 at Notre Dame was the only double-digit scoring output by anybody besides McDaniels.
"I feel like everybody's playing as hard as they can," McDaniels said.
Before this losing streak, Clemson had been 8-1 when McDaniels led all scorers.
"It's frustrating for all of us," Clemson coach Brad Brownell said. "We do a lot of things for K.J. to get him the ball and put him in positions to be successful. Lucky for us, he usually comes through. That's what you want for a player. He wants that.
"But yeah, it's hard, it's frustrating and challenging when you play well like that. We've lost two games here by a possession or two. That's how close this is, from being 8-4 to 6-6. It's one or two plays every game."
It actually started really well for the role players; the Tigers opened 6-for-6, with buckets from Jaron Blossomgame, Damarcus Harrison and Rod Hall. Harrison chipped in seven first-half points, and Austin Ajukwa nailed a clutch 3-pointer with 1:46 remaining to bring the Tigers within two.
Five different Tigers besides McDaniels had multiple field goals, but nobody exceeded Harrison's seven - and no, he did not score in the second half.
"At least today, we got some baskets out of all of them," Brownell said. "It would be nice if one of them would separate themselves consistently, but that's just not been the case. A guy will make a couple shots, and then he'll go 10 minutes without making a play."
McDaniels is a top-5 ACC scorer at 17.3 points per game, but not one of his teammates averages more than nine points.
"I mean, it does get to a point where we've got to all step up as a team," Ajukwa said. "Because one person can't do everything. We've got to fill our roles the right way."
The Tigers (15-9, 6-6 ACC) were bludgeoned on the boards 33-20, clearly a deficiency with starting center Landry Nnoko sidelined with a bad case of the flu.
Yet Clemson held a 43-37 lead with 10 minutes to go, before Virginia (21-5, 12-1), which hadn't won at Littlejohn in its previous four tries, calmly and patiently constructed a 18-7 run over the next seven and a half minutes.
"They finished the game like a team that's 12-1 in the ACC with 21 wins," Brownell said. "They weren't rattled at all on the road."
Guard Joe Harris paced the Cavaliers with 16 points, while three others had at least a dozen.
After Ajukwa floated an alley-oop to McDaniels for a ferocious, highlight reel-worthy slam with 11:02 left, the Tigers closed 3-for-12 from the floor.
Clemson can snap the skid Tuesday at 7 p.m. on ESPNU against North Carolina State (16-8, 6-5.)
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